South East students forced to sleep in schools to write Maths exams


By Gabriel Dike, Jude Chinedu, Okey Sampson (Umuahia); George Onyejiuwa, Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri) and Emmanuel Uzor, Wilson Okereke (Awka)

Details of how about 300,000 students in the South East wrote the May/June 2024 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) General Mathematics 1 and 2 on Thursday, May 30, 2024, have emerged. Daily Sun also gathered how the five state governments, security agents and schools collaborated to ensure a near-hitch-free examination without any casualty.

Four weeks ahead of the exams, director of communication, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Emma Powerful, warned the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) not to conduct any exam on May 30, being Biafra Heroes Day. It was also the day of its sit-at-home order.

How students wrote WASSCE

Government officials in Enugu State explained the success of the exams. Commissioner for Information, Aka Eze Aka, said: “We were certain that our house was in order before going ahead to assure our children to go ahead and sit for their examination.

“Imagine the calamity of Enugu children failing to sit for the General Mathematics, one of the subjects needed for admission. That would have been a disaster of indescribable proportions.

“We are happy that the students and examiners demonstrated their confidence in what we are doing in the security space and went ahead with the conduct of the papers.

“With buoyed confidence through sustained assurance of the government, the candidates were able to write the exam without hindrance. There was no case of missing any of the papers attributable to security-related issues.”

Special Assistant to the Governor on Research and Publication, Ejeh Josh, said: “That May 30 that our children were having their General Mathematics examination and a day before that, we ensured that the state reinforced its security by mobilising our security operatives. It was both intelligence gathering and strategic deployments of tactical squads across the state to crack any threat.

“Across all the communities in the state, we have our aerial surveillance system through the help of the state Command and Control Centre, which has the capability of monitoring the state, detecting unusual movements and gatherings and tracking vehicular movements. This was complemented by the Nigerian Army, Police, Vigilante, Forest Guard, NAF, community policing and citizens engagement across the board.”

Proprietor, Queens Model College, Enugu and member, National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Chukwuma Okenwa, said: “For students that stay far from the school, for the fact that we projected as usual, that there will be disruptions in vehicle movement, we made room for them to stay back in the school a day ahead. Some of them preferred to stay with colleagues that live around the school.

“That was the strategy we used. Some others had to trek for like one kilometre to write the exam. Overall, all the registered students sat for the exam. There was no recorded absence.

“There were some level of anxiety among the students and teachers due to the tension that had built up prior to the exam day. Government should ensure that lives of innocent children are not put in harm’s way in a bid to demystify the Biafra Heroes Day.”

Nkechinyere Njoku said: “My daughter left with one of our neighbours early in the morning that day. Her school is not far away from here but they left very early in order not to be identified as students going to write exams.

“You know in this kind of situation, you don’t know who is who. Inside her bag, she had her school uniform and other things she would need for the exam. My mind couldn’t come down throughout the day.

“I was just praying to God to bring my daughter home safely and that there should not be any encounter between those people and the police. I had even thought of stopping her from going but I know she wouldn’t even want to hear that. I thank God that she returned to me in one piece.”

In Abia State, students defied IPOB order to write the exam. Commissioner for Education, Prof Uche Eme Uche, was not forthcoming on what her ministry did to ensure the success. When contacted, she said she would not talk to the press: “The issue is sensitive.”

However, Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Ferdinand Ekeoma, said government’s proactive measures were what saved the day for students.

Quoting senior Ministry of Education officials, he said government made different security arrangements in collaboration with WAEC and security agencies weeks before the exams: “Government took time to assess the suitability of the almost 1,000 centres chosen for the WASSCE. With the help of the council and security agencies, the centres were protected.

“Students freely moved to their exam centres without any obstruction. Information from the ministry indicates that the exam recorded over 95 per cent success in terms of turnout and organisation.

“Any centre where the exam could not hold was not as a result of the sit-at-home. But for other reasons, which government handled effectively in the interest of the students.”

A parent, Celine Kalu, said: “Many of us who earlier entertained fears about the safety of our children and wards, had relaxed mind when we learnt about goverment proactive strategy in the area of security, especially in setting up the Joint Security Taskforce codenamed Operation Crush, which led to the destruction of the criminal architecture in the state, especially at Lokpanta in Umunneochi Local Government where kidnappers had built a powerful enclave.”

Despite the government’s measures, parents also came up with their own measures. Uzunma Igu, a trader said her child, who was involved in the exam had to sleep at her friend’s house close to her school to beat the sit-at-home order.

Ogbonna Egwu said he made arrangements with a commercial tricycle operator, who came to his house very early in the morning on May 30, to take his son to his school and bring him back in the evening.

Mr. Sunday Iwuamadi, said: “My daughter is writing the WASSCE, she is a science major. When I heard that IPOB had declared a sit-at-home on May 30 as a day of remembrance for those who died in the struggle for Biafra, I was very worried.

“If the exam officials were unable to come, it means that my daughter would have to re-sit General Mathematics next year. That would be another financial burden for me. But as for her safety, I had nothing to worry about. Her school, The Sunglow School, is in Imo State Housing Estate, Umuguma, where I live.

“But when I took my daughter to her school on that day, I noticed that exam officials were already in the school. That was when I calmed down. My initial fears were that the officials might not be able to come because of the forced restriction on movement.”

Mr. Ndubuisi Ekwe: “I took my son to his school around 5.30am on that day to avoid any likelihood of falling victims. He was in a mufti. When we got to the school, I discovered that other students and officials were already at the school.

“The main gate of the school was locked. I had to wait until the end of the examination. We left for home around 6.00pm. I thank God that we did not meet with any harm.”

Proprietor, Sunglow School, Mr Uchegbu Nwaka, said: “None of our students missed their examination. All our students, who were supposed to sit for the examination, came for it in the morning of May 30, the day IPOB declared a sit-at-home.

“We have a private security personnel, who are employed. Anyone without any business in the school is not permitted into the premises.”

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Commissioner for Education, Johncliff Nwadike, could not be reached. A source in the ministry, who wished not to be quoted, said government sent plainclothes security personnel to schools to ensure that students wrote the examination: “None of them missed the examination.”

Schools visited by our Correspondent in rural areas did not have much presence of security personnel. Candidates were locked inside the school premises without the school guard manning the gate.

Principal of one of the schools, who did not want her name in the print: “The reason was to disguise as if nobody was present in the school. We have to ask the gateman to leave. We locked the gate from outside so that nobody would know candidates were inside.

“We asked most of them, who are coming from far away to lodge around the school. Some even slept in their teachers’ houses so that they can make it to the exam hall. We also asked them to be in classes before 6.00am and they followed the instructions. That was why nobody missed the exam. They all know how important Mathematics is.”

A candidate expressed their fears: “We were afraid and shaking while writing the exam. Everybody wanted to finish on time. Even our teachers and invigilators were asking us to submit our papers before the time allocated for the paper.

“Everybody had their concentration in and outside. Our hall was silent as a graveyard. We were asked not to make noise. There was a time we heard a loud noise outside. We thought it was a gun. The hall was scattered before we went back to continue our paper.”

It was the same fear for parents. Mrs. Kelechi Okwuchi: “Chioma is my last daughter. I didn’t want to take any chances at all. I had to take her to the school and waited till she finished her paper and we went home together.”

In Anambra State, some schools within the Ihiala council area, some candidates left their homes on May 29 for the exam. In Lilu community, some students were also seen moving into the community secondary school on May 29. However, Mrs. Ogadimma Ezemadumere said: “There was no issue on the day of the examination. We took precautionary measures to take our children to school on May 29 ahead of the examination. No student in the school missed the exam.

“We circulated information to our students. Especially, those coming from far places like Okija, Ukpor and Uli. The idea is to make them come to school on a safe day, which is May 29.”

Still in Ihiala LG, designated as security flashpoints, some day students had some hitches accessing their schools for the examination.

Nduka Olima, a native of Ukpor, lamented: “We trekked for a long distance because there was no single vehicle on the road. We walked through the bush path when we were going to school.

“Before we could get to the school, they had started the examination. It had a timetable and it must start the same time across the country to ensure it did not leak from any school.”

In some schools within Awka, students were seen in the early morning with some of them disguising in plainclothes to take the examination.

At Oakland International School, Awka, a source, who pleaded anonymity said: “Some students did not even know there was sit-at-home on the day of the examination. This was because we did not go home since they started WASSCE.

“They live in the hostels and have their normal academic activities. They didn’t know about sit-at-home and some of us who have access to social media also did not disclose what happens outside to the students.”

Some schools that have boarding facilities did not allow their students to go home while those who do not live in the hostels were allowed to return to the hostels ahead of the exam.

Candidates and teachers in Ebonyi State narrated how they defied the IPOB threat. One of the students, Gloria Ezechukwu, who wrote the exam at Overcomers Comprehensive Secondary School, Ozibo, outskirts of Abakaliki told Daily Sun:

“We were asked by our teachers to come very early for the exam. I left my house at about 5.30am. By the time I got there, some of my colleagues were already there.”

Salome Oroke, wrote WASSCE at Nnodo Secondary School, Abakaliki “Our school gate was not widely opened that day. The main gate was locked and we followed the small entrance attached to the gate and entered the school premises.

“When the exam started, our security man locked that small gate and we wrote the Mathematics exam peacefully.”

Mrs. Beatrice Obasi, Principal, Abakaliki High School, Presco, said: “Our school is on the road, a major road. I instructed my students to come early that day. Of course, we locked our gates that day and only opened the small one through, which the teachers, invigilators and candidates came in.

“We then took the candidates to another place in our school premises that also has a gate where they wrote the exam peacefully. I showed you the hall the students wrote the exam that day when you came into the school premises. You will agree with me that it was not easy for you to come into the premises.”

State Treasurer of NAPPS, Sunday Agbo, said: “Of course, we were aware of the threat by IPOB. What we did was to instruct security men in our various schools to be on alert.

“We gave them some security tips. This really helped us that day. We had no security issues that day just like every other day.”

Mrs. Susan Anyigor said: “I wouldn’t have allowed my child to go out for any exam that May 30 if not for the assurance from government that there will be no security problem.”

Immediate past National Vice President, NAPPS, Chief Onyeoma Kelechi, said that apart from starting the General Mathematics behind the scheduled time in his school, there was no other difficulty encountered by the candidates.

He further disclosed that the candidates were not only complete in the hall but also wrote the examination without fear of any attack and thanked the security personnel for standing for the children.

“Besides starting the examination a little bit behind the time, there was another problem. I can recall that I received a call from a member at Onicha LG who complained that his school supervisor could not come on time due to lack of means of transportation.”

Mrs. Uzoamaka Edeh’s son wrote exam at Urban Secondary School, Abakaliki: “Though security men were patrolling the streets, I was still in tension until my son returned home in the evening.

“I thought over the possibility of having an uninterrupted examination throughout the night that preceded May 30. I stopped my son from leaving the house early until Id found out that the town was peaceful.”

Mr. Eze Gabriel said: “My daughter at Isu Model Secondary School and her fellow students wrote the examination at a compound because of the IPOB threat.

“Members of IPOB had launched an attack on the school premises on the particular day hoping to kill both the students and their teachers but missed their target as the children were somewhere else writing the examination.

“The miscreants, having missed their target, later opened fire on the principal office and other structures thereby destroying some equipment.”

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